The changing face of ‘fake news’ and the post-truth world
"TRUTH Social… encourages an open, free, and honest global conversation without discriminating against political ideology".
This is the mission statement for the new social media platform announced by Donald Trump in October 2021. Its name has raised a few eyebrows given the track record that its founder has when it comes to telling the ‘truth’ – or at least, what most people understand as ‘the truth’. But then, the concept has become a hugely contested issue over the past few years and has led to a wave of global soul-searching.
The debates over truth and deception in public life are encapsulated in the crisis over ‘fake news’ – a term that first broke into public consciousness around 2016. The idea of politicians and other public figures playing fast and loose with the truth isn’t new, of course. What’s new is the media environment we now live in, and particularly, the influence of the internet and other digital communications media. It’s the combination of this new technology – and the influence it has on society – along with the perennial tendency for those in power to twist the truth to their own ends, which has created today’s particular crisis.
The many forms of fake news
Defining exactly what ‘fake news’ is can be a tricky business. This is partly to do with the term itself. On the face of it, it seems quite straightforward. It refers to false information masquerading as news. But because there are so many different types of ‘fake’, and because the term itself has been co-opted as a rhetorical bludgeon by certain politicians, it’s come to mean different things to different people.
Because of this vagueness, a lot of people prefer to avoid the term. Popular alternatives are ‘disinformation’ and ‘misinformation’. The former of these describes information that the person who’s spreading it knows to be false. It’s deceitful reporting that’s used purposefully to misinform people.
Most of the coverage in the media about ‘fake news’ has focused on this type of thing – on examples which are purposely malicious, and are meant to sway political opinion through techniques which smack of propaganda. This is partly because this makes for dramatic copy, and partly because it’s played a major role in events which have attracted global media attention – events such as the US presidential elections and the Brexit referendum.
Misinformation refers to false information which is circulated without any explicit intention to deceive.
But misinformation can also be a major problem. Misinformation refers to false information which is circulated without any explicit intention to deceive. In these cases, it’s more a matter of ineptness, accident or lack of care. It’s when false statements made by those who should know better are reported upon, circulated, and become part of received wisdom about a topic.
Fake news and Welsh politics
For example, the political context in Wales today may not have received quite the attention from analysts and the media that Trump-era US politics has. But the ways in which information is reported, explained and shared in Wales, especially as the Senedd has gained more power, highlight several important issues about the effects that ‘fake news’ can have for a democratic society.
This is the topic of the film, which explores how democracy in Wales suffers at the fate of mis- and disinformation. It examines the relationship between ‘fake news’ and a cluster of important political and social factors, including devolution, the state of the media environment, and the impact of the politics of the union more generally.
As the film shows, be it disinformation or misinformation, the reason that ‘fake news’ has become such an issue for modern society is that it can have serious ramifications. Liberal democracies are founded on the idea of the electorate being able to make informed and rational choices based on the information they have available to them. And if this information is somehow corrupted or misleading, it threatens the ideals of democracy itself. Which is why, as the contributors to the film explain, vigilance and an understanding of the possible dangers are so important in the fight against ‘fake news’.
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This resource is part of the Active Citizenship in Wales collection.
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